The Ashes As it’s my role here to spearhead LGM’s cornering the “progressive blogosphere market on cricket commentary” (as per our FAQ), my absence is letting the team down. I was able to follow the first two tests of the series, but only sporadically the current match.
England were highly regarded as likely winners of the 2013 Ashes, and currently hold a 2-0 advantage in the series. Given the rules governing the “winning” of this cricket series, all England have to do in order to retain the trophy is draw a single match of the remaining three. Which is good, as they’re struggling mightily in the third test. Australia scored 527 for 7 (declared) in their first innings, while England have only managed to reply with 294 for 7. In declaring with three wickets remaining, Australia signalled extreme confidence in winning this test. Today, an increasingly rare century by Kevin Pieterson has given England faint hope for a draw. To accomplish that they need to hope that they can spin out the 23 remaining wickets over two days, and this assumes that they manage to avoid Australia forcing the follow-on. The second test, July 18-22, was relatively boring. England held Australia to only 128 runs in their first innings, declared after seven wickets in their second, and ultimately won by 347 runs. Following the second test, the English media featured stories crowing about the possibility of a 5-0 whitewash, save for the occasional “erm, hang on” such as this piece by England wicket-keeper Matt Prior arguing that Australia are somehow invincible in the third test of a series. It appears that Prior’s bizarre hypothesis is receiving support.
The first test, however, featured history and drama (and several other lazy cliches as well). Ashton Agar, playing in his first test match for Australia at 19, scored 98 runs in the first innings. This would be merely noteworthy for the debutant, but he did it from the number 11 position in the batting order, and set the test cricket record for runs scored as the number 11 batsman. There are 11 to a team in cricket, and like baseball, usually the least good batter gets the final spot in the order. A very rough analogy would be for a pitcher in a National League game (or ballpark in this day and age of interleague play) to hit for the cycle with a grand slam, but this analogy only works if it’s never been done before. I haven’t done the research to know if it has. Regardless, Agar did not bat 11th in the second innings.
England began the fifth and final day of the first test with a lead of 137 runs, needing only four wickets to secure victory against Australia’s 8th through 11th order batsmen. What at first seemed impossible became progressively in sight for Australia as the ineffectiveness of the England bowling attack allowed the “tail end” of the batting order to score runs with ease. Then, with England only needing one wicket, while Australia were only 20 runs behind, the bizarre that only cricket can produce happened. They broke for lunch. They had played for the better part of five days, scored 1,152 combined runs, the end of this marathon was in sight, and . . . lunch. Again, to make a rough baseball comparison, it’s the bottom of the ninth, the home team down by one, bases loaded, two outs, and the pitcher is batting. Let’s take a break? Seriously?
Somehow lunch did the trick, as Australia only managed six more runs before surrendering their final wicket.
Clint Dempsey I woke this morning at 530 PDT to strange rumors. Seattle Sounders FC were going to sign Clint Dempsey from Tottenham. Dempsey is probably the best player on the USMNT at present, at the peak of his career, well regarded in England, and has demonstrated his ability at the highest level in five and a half seasons at Fulham plus the one at Spurs. Initially, I didn’t understand this move from either perspective. Spurs only just signed him a year ago for £6 million, and he was a regular feature in their starting XI. From Dempsey’s perspective, while I’m more generous in my assessment on the level of play in the MLS than a lot of people, why would one want to take that step down at this point in his career? Only a year ago, Spurs, Aston Villa, and Liverpool were competing to sign him from Fulham.
Then it started to make sense. Spurs have agreed a fee for Spain international striker Roberto Soldado from Valenica for £26 million, in addition to Brazilian midfielder Paulinho (Corinthians, £17 million) and Belgian winger Nacer Chadli from FC Twente for £7 million. Dempsey’s playing time suddenly looks to be attenuated as Tottenham played him in both a winger and striker role. With Brazil 2014 only a year away, he needs to play. And, in addition to the roughly $9 million MLS record transfer fee, the Sounders are reportedly going to pay Dempsey $8 million per season over a four year contract — another MLS record.
As a supporter of both Seattle and Arsenal, I’m pleased with this move. As a supporter of the USMNT, I’m not. Dempsey should play in a better league (but then, too, so should Landon Donovan).
42 Finally, on the flight from LHR to SFO yesterday, my wife woke me when 42 came on the screen. I rarely watch what’s shown on the plane, but as a fan of baseball, cinema, and baseball*cinema, I watched. It was mediocre: slow, boring, thin saccharine sentimental crap. This review from the CSM sums it up best: “given the full halo treatment” and “the filmmaking is TV-movie-of-the-week dull and Robinson’s ordeal is hammered home to the exclusion of virtually everything else in his life.”
That said, two things about the film were superb. First, the CGI rendering of the old ballparks is stunning (Ebbets of course, but also Shibe, Crosley, and Forbes). Stunning to me at least, who has really only experienced these parks through the several books on ballparks that are in my library, pictures, and various clips. Second, and a pleasant surprise, is John McGinley’s turn as Red Barber. I’ve heard clips of Barber calling games, and watched Game 7 of the 1952 World Series on YouTube’s MLB Classics. He was also on Morning Edition every Friday until he died in October 1992; I was a regular listener. It’s difficult to forget Jenny Newtson’s announcement of his death one Friday morning on KLCC (yes, I had the “experience” of living in Eugene for a year in 1992) following several weeks worth of Barber’s absences on Morning Edition. I also bought Fridays with Red by Bob Edwards (and had Edwards sign it). McGinley’s performance in that role gives some vitality to what are essentially second-hand experiences of Barber.
Adendum of Questionable Relevance I’ve been away from here for a couple months, as a lot happened in a short period of time. The house I’ve owned in Plymouth for nine years finally sold; after a series of desultory offers, I finally accepted a good one in May. I’ve had about 15 odd lodgers in there over the years, which resulted in a lot of work to get it ready and a lot of junk that I didn’t recognise yet inherited. A three week visit by my wife and step daughter (who live in Oregon) coincided with the finalization of the sale, so she was able to help with the packing and moving to the new flat.
Second, I served at the officiant at the wedding of dear friends in Corvallis, Oregon in early July. It was the greatest honor I’ve had, and the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write or deliver. But at least my formal title is now Reverend Dr., and once that knighthood or peerage comes though, I’ll have the trifecta.
Last, eerily demonstrating the prescience of this post of mine from March,[*] my home institution announced a radical restructuring in May of how we deliver our curriculum, university wide, beginning Autumn 2014. I’d love to write about this development, but it’s perhaps not in the interests of my continued employment to take this on at the present time. It did help inspire me to stand down as “programme manager” of the undergraduate program after seven years in that administrative role.
[*] A couple months ago, in the pub, a colleague from a different department mentioned having read the post linked above, and noted approvingly that I didn’t specify my home institution (but it’s not like it’s, you know, a state secret difficult to obtain). He said that the post perfectly described the management motivation for this new curriculum delivery initiative. Which is sad, in a way.